Time to start going all in, then.
The short version of the flow of the game is that the first seven tales pretty much take place at the same time, following characters hither and yon in a bunch of events that tie together thematically but not in narrative. This, then, is when everything starts getting explained. It’s an interesting approach, which saves the trouble of having a big twist partway through the story but replaces it with a set of mysteries that players can either figure out early or get bored with reading about for the tenth time.
I’ll get more into that once I’m actually done, though. For now, it’s time to jump ahead to the first tale that starts clearing up all of this mess, spearing the events that will take us through the rest of the game. As you could probably guess, that’s a not even remotely subtle reference to the fact that we’re kicking off with Kain, who’s supposed to be a brooding badass but really comes across more as a moping manchild who has serious issues with his spear. That… may both be a little too on-point and unintentionally autobiographical, yes?
On the seventh tale of this episodic sequel, the premise has officially worn thin. They started out so promising, a chance to really dive into characters in limited settings and expand on the dreary experience of the original game, but as the overarching plot has become more and more relevant each episode increasingly feels like tying up loose ends and moving all of the pieces to their proper spots on the game board. Which, to be fair, is probably why the tales are getting worse over time rather than better.
This tale is the last of the initial offerings from way back in the start; after this, it’s all-in or nothing. And it stars a character who was little more than a footnote in the first game whom I already know has to be in a certain place at a certain time to make Yang’s story work properly. Here, then, is the weakness of episodic stories like this – the interlink of multiple things happening at once is cool, but it deflates a lot of tension when you know that things have to fit together later.
We’re almost at the end of the initial set of tales offered by the game, although new ones have been popping up as other tales gets cleared away. You really can do them in any order you want, but it sort of blunts the effect without seeing them unfold in the intended order, wonky timeline effects aside. That just leaves two of the least likely starring characters to take center stage, and in this case, it’s the character whose entire life has basically been “support character.”
Of course, the same could be said of Rosa, but the fact is as a character I don’t like Rosa in the least. She’s clearly written as a Token Hot Girl without any attributes or opinions of her own, and the novelty of the game stating that she and Cecil were in a relationship is quickly outweighed by the fact that the writers make her completely a satellite to Cecil’s whims. Porom, on the other hand, has at least some agency and wish of her own. Not as much as I’d like, but still.
So far, a lot of stuff has been happening in The After Years, albeit mostly to disconnected individuals. The first four tales were all pretty well self-contained and didn’t really cross over with one another at all. Moving into the fifth tale, though, it’s high time that some of this stuff started pulling together. Not coincidentally, the entire point of this particular tale is to create a larger framework for all of the various cliffhangers that we’re up to.
Unfortunately, it winds up treading over some… uncomfortable territory getting there. As in veering close to a certain (terrible) show about a whole lot of elemental ninja. Please don’t make me type the name.
But let’s leave that to one side. It’s a new year, it’s a new tale, it’s a new adventure. So let’s get started with a bunch of ninja acting like, well, ninja, doing like a ninja do. No, they are not shredding on their electric guitars while riding their totally sweet motorcycles, we’re talking closer to the traditional concept of ninja.
It’s the end of the year, and I intend to celebrate with a trip through the tale of the most unpleasant party member from the original Final Fantasy IV! No, not the worst party member from the original game, the most unpleasant one. Which is a spot that has much more competition, since I don’t think anyone seriously contends that Edward was anything other than terrible in the original.
On a more meta note, I will express a touch of regret that the last column for 2014 is of a rather undramatic part of the game’s narrative. Not that I’m not still enjoying The After Years more than I expected to, since it adds a lot of depth to the characters that had previously been lacking. Yes, it’s a rehash of the plot from the last game, which is less than ideal. At the same time, it’s also a better overall game and seems to have a more impressive narrative flow, and the structure is a bit more fun.